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Report from Storage Visions 2016

January 4, 2016  •  By Larry Jordan

[Originally published on Jan. 4, 2016 by Larry Jordan.]

workflowI spent today attending the annual Storage Visions Conference in Las Vegas discussing the latest technical developments on storage. While some of the discussions go deep into engineering, there were a number of highlights that I want to share with you.

NOTE: Tom Coughlin, the Executive Producer of the Conference also asked me to host a panel discussing the special storage challenges media people face; but that stuff you already know.

NVDIMM

There is a relatively new technology called NVDIMM (Non-volatile DIMM) which merges RAM with SSD storage into a single technology. What this does is provide long-term (the “non-volatile” part) storage at the speed of RAM (the “DIMM” part).

There are a lot of benefits to NVDIMM:

  • Performance thats about 1000x faster than SSD
  • Storage that is hundreds of times larger than SSD
  • Extremely small size
  • Built-in encryption
  • The ability to never specifically “save” anything again, because it is always saved as part of being stored in RAM

Now, at this point, there are still a number of technical and inter-operational issues that need to be resolved. NVDIMM is not ready for mass deployment, but I found it interesting that by converging storage with RAM, we get the best of both worlds – high capacity combined with high performance.

This will probably roll out in 2017.

ENCRYPTION

Did you know that every iPhone stores data in an encrypted format on its internal SSD? Nope, I didn’t either, until today.

Encryption is a big deal. You don’t want someone stealing your phone and hijacking your data. So it is “encrypted,” converted into a “meaningless” pattern of 1’s and 0’s that only make sense if you have the decipher key.

NOTE: Your iPhone passcode is not the decipher key. Encryption is built deeply into the operating system which handles all the logistics.

There are three types of encryption:

  • Encrypting data “in-place” – when it is stored on a hard disk
  • Encrypting data when it is “in-transit” – traveling across the web or between permanent storage and RAM
  • Encrypting data when it is “in-memory” – currently stored in RAM for processing

In the past – say, 2-3 years ago – in order to encrypt data stored on our hard disks, we needed to devote CPU clock cycles to the process, which slowed everything down. Today’s SSD systems have a small CPU built into the drive itself (or the NVDIMM, for that matter) that handle all the encryption in real-time as the data streams from the computer into the storage. This means that there’s no performance hit when using encrypted data.

NOTE: A variety of horror stories were shared in this session; for example, about how Lockheed Martin sent a laptop to eBay for resale and forgot to remove the launch codes for nuclear missiles. Or another example was NASA failing to follow its own protocols and reselling several laptops without first removing launch data.

If keeping your data secret is important to you, be SURE! to use Secure Erase before recycling any hard drives.

After hearing this session on encryption, I was talking with an engineer at Drive Savers who told me that salvaging data from iPhones is now the largest part of their business. And, Drive Savers is able to salvage encrypted data from an iPhone without decrypting it first. In other words, they can recover files from your iPhone without ever knowing the content; which I think is pretty cool – files can be recovered without losing their security.

I’ve always recommended steering clear of software encryption – such as File Vault – because the performance hit is too great. However, I find the prospect of hardware encryption very exciting because it improves security without damaging performance.

CURRENT STORAGE TRENDS

There was an interesting lecture on storage trends from the folks at Objective Analysis – an independent research firm – looking at both Flash and spinning media (i.e. traditional hard drives).

First, Flash prices fell more than 50% from 2011 – 2012. Flash is 75% cheaper today than it was in January 2011, just five years ago, even though it feels like prices haven’t changed much.

Preventing major drops in Flash prices is a new technology called 3D NAND. The conversion to this technology will probably keep Flash prices fairly stable and in somewhat short supply for the next year.

There’s a new memory technology on the horizon – called 3D XPoint – that we’ll hear more about in 2017, though it is not, in itself, a threat to either NAND SSDs. The speaker felt that this tech may not be released until 2018.

Because Flash prices are, essentially stable, this means that SSD prices will remain stable as well. So, your dreams of SSDs getting close to the same price as spinning media remains a pipe dream for the foreseeable future.

While SAS and SATA SSDs will continue, and have a long lifespan, PCIe-connected devices are poised to take off.

NOTE: Thunderbolt is a PCIe architecture; and Thunderbolt 3 is twice as fast as Thunderbolt 2, and optimized for faster data transfers. I expect to see a lot of outboard gear connect via Thunderbolt 3.

Also, watch for a new technology called “PCIe m.2.” According to Wikipedia: “M.2, formerly known as the Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF), is a specification for internally mounted computer expansion cards and associated connectors. It replaces the mSATA standard, which uses the PCI Express Mini Card physical card layout and connectors. M.2’s more flexible physical specification allows different module widths and lengths, and, paired with the availability of more advanced interfacing features, makes the M.2 more suitable than mSATA for solid-state storage applications in general and particularly for the use in small devices such as ultrabooks or tablets.” This spec supports up to 4 lanes of PCIe data transfer.

BLEEDING EDGE CAMERA

It isn’t storage, but a very cool “bleeding-edge” image-capture technology is called a “Light Field” Camera. Lytro is the leading company in this space.

Traditional cameras only capture color and grayscale data on the sensor. A Light Field camera captures color, gray-scale AND light angle. From the light angle, true 3D shape and space can be determined, not in terms of stereoscopic 3D, but with the ability to move the viewer AROUND an object and see what’s on the sides, after the image has been recorded.

Again, not today – but “soon.”

XSAN REPLACEMENT

I got into a long discussion with the folks at StorNext at Quantum. This is an object-based way of storing, managing, and locating files. It was also the technical foundation Apple used to create XSAN. Object storage is a way to store files to provide data redundancy without using RAIDs.

This technology is for larger shops, the getting started price is north of $50,000, but the big benefit is almost infinite scalability with faster performance. The time to consider using this technology is when you have more than 200 terabytes of data online. Simply increasing capacity becomes more and more expensive. Stor-Next provides an alternative way of thinking.

SUMMARY

Storage today is more than just capacity or performance. Media generates so many files that we need new technology to help us safely record, transfer, edit, track, transcode, distribute and manage the whole process.

There are a lot of companies working hard to figure this out and today was a snapshot from key players in the industry about what we expect in the near future.

Stay tuned. There’s lots of cool stuff coming. And, as always, let me know what you think.

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